Useful Gadgets (And They’re Smart, Too!): IO Gear Ultra Long Range Wireless HDMI Link And Amped Wireless Apollo PRO Long Range HD Web Cam

My last “The Front Line” post talked about how the world of consumer electronics has become heavily commoditized (you can buy a lot of functionality for a few dollars these days) and also how smart these gadgets are becoming (artificial intelligence and machine learning have become increasingly important).

The third “leg” of that triad is, of course, wireless connectivity. Without it, most of these gadgets we use today would not even exist, or at the least become largely impractical. Yes, we could install a remote monitoring camera and run power and coaxial cables to it, and we could also run a cable from our tablet to a smart TV to share a video. But that’s just too much work, right?

The two products in this review take full advantage of wireless connectivity. And they’ve also got a limited amount of artificial intelligence in that most of the setup and connection required is performed automatically with minimal human intervention. One product lets you stream wireless video (up to Full HD resolution) over a maximum claimed distance of 600 feet, while the other streams wireless HD video through your home WiFi network to a connected smartphone, tablet, or PC.

IO Gear makes a variety of wireless connectivity products. Their Ultra Long Range Wireless HDMI Transmitter (model # GWLRHDTX, MSRP $199.95) and matching receiver (model # GWLRHDRX, MSRP $199.95) offer the longest transmission distance and use HDMI connections for input and output.

These are not small products. Each unit measures 7.6” x 4.5” x 1.75” and weighs 1.35 pounds, so they’re really intended for permanent installations in places like a lecture hall, church, large meeting room, stadium, or auditorium. At $400 a pair, they’re also more of a commercial AV product than a consumer product, but there might be some consumer installations that would porting HD video over a long distance.

IO Gear’s wireless HDMI transmitter (left) and receiver (right).

The technology behind this product uses bonded WiFi channels in the 5 GHz spectrum to establish and maintain the wireless link. You may already have a wireless modem/gateway in your home that employs this connection mode, known by its formal name of IEEE 802.11ac. With channel bonding, two, three, or four 20 MHz channels can be combined to increase bandwidth. The source video, which has a much higher bandwidth to start with, undergoes light compression (usually in the color channel) to fit.

This process, using OFDM modulation, also requires some form of error correction to recover lost packets. The result is high-quality video from the receiver that has about 1.5 seconds of latency from the source video, which means you wouldn’t want to install this system in the same room where a live event was happening unless all video and audio sources had the same delay interval.

IO Gear’s wireless HDMI transmitter, operating from my basement to transmit an off-air signal to my home theater.

 

The IO Gear wireless HDMI receiver sending the signal to a 15-inch broadcast monitor for analysis.

 

The received signal as seen on my 92-inch projection screen, illuminated by a Mitsubishi HC6000 projector.

However, if you want to link HD video over a path that would require an excessively-long wired link or would make installing cable impractical, then the IO Gear products would make a lot of sense. In my tests, the receiver and transmitter found and linked to each other in less than 30 seconds, with the transmitter connected to an HD video source in my basement and the receiver driving a 40-inch HDTV in an upstairs bathroom. This path, through multiple walls and floors, was about 60 feet.

I should point out that wireless HDMI links can use either 9 or 24 channels in the 5 GHz UNII band. Models that can transmit on all 24 channels must be equipped with transmit power control (TPC), using the lowest power possible to maintain the link, and dynamic frequency selection (DFS) to avoid interference to other operations sharing the spectrum. In urban areas, you may find it takes longer to discover a clear channel and set up the link.

Amped Wireless’ Apollo Pro Long Range WiFi HD camera (MSRP $159.99) is another high-performance product that has some smarts. Unlike the IO Gear system, the Apollo Pro operates in the more congested 2.4 GHz WiFi band (a decision that doesn’t make much sense to me). Its output power of nearly 1 watt does give the camera greatly extended range, but in an urban area with dense WiFi use, it may be difficult to locate and maintain an open channel for the camera.

The Apollo PRO in operation, hidden near some holiday decorations to monitor my front hall (and my cat!).

 

Some of the menu settings on the Apollo PRO as seen on a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

Setting up the Apollo Pro is simple. You simply link your device to the WiFi signal broadcast by the camera, then download the Apollo Pro app from Google Play or iTunes. Launch the app and connect the camera to your home WiFi network. You’ll need to establish an account with Amped Wireless to log in and see your camera’s output, and you can have multiple cameras running at the same time.

The Apollo pro comes with a mounting base (not recommended for outside use unless you live in a very dry climate) and has a long USB-to-AC power cord. The camera has a super-wide 110o field of view and a 10x zoom. The output is 1280x720p HD video in full color, but there is also an array of infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) around the perimeter of the camera for night-time viewing. (As with the IO Gear products, you will experience some latency with the Apollo Pro of about 2 seconds from live.)

So, where’s the AI part? You can set the camera up to respond to motion, sound, or both to initiate a recording. The camera can also alert you that it is indeed recording and (here’s where the registered account comes in) saving your recording to the cloud – specifically, a could server maintained by Amped Wireless. The company Web site states that, “…you can relive, save and share what your camera saw when you weren’t watching. Starting at just $3 a month, you can choose a Recording Plan that saves a clip each time the Camera detects sound or motion.”

Daytime (full color) video as viewed on a Samsung Galaxy tablet.

 

Nighttime operating mode gives you black and white images illuminated by infrared LEDs.

That’s pretty much the case with all the WiFi cameras I’ve seen at CES and at retail. The prices are very low, but you’re expected to take out a monthly subscription to access your cloud recordings after the buy-in. I’d prefer a set-up that lets you archive to your own cloud storage, connected to your home WiFi network, with an option to archive your recordings periodically to a remote server for safe storage.

In my tests, I used the camera to monitor my front hall and figure out what one of my cats does, late every night, when he goes downstairs and wanders around howling for about 20 minutes. With the camera’s IR lighting (with images in black and white), I was able to see that he’s actually playing with a small fuzzy ball, pushing it all over the floor – something he will not do when any humans are present.

I also used the Apollo Pro’s built-in speaker and microphone system to talk to him while he was playing and convince him to come back upstairs, albeit with a very confused look on his face. (The howling is cute for a couple of minutes, and then it becomes very annoying!) These tests showed that the camera has decent dynamic range, avoiding excessive auto-irising with intense light from outside windows and maintaining shadow detail indoors.

THE WRAP-UP

Both products show just how far we’ve advanced with ‘smart’ wireless products. The IO Gear Wireless HDMI system maintained a reliable link through several floors in my house with no visible deterioration in signal quality (I also tested image quality on my 92-inch home theater screen with a 1080p projector). At $400 for a pair, it is pricey for the home market and is better suited for commercial installations.

The Apollo Pro camera worked fine no matter where I took my Samsung tablet inside or outside my house. I’d like the latency to be shorter and I’d much prefer the camera operate exclusively in the 5 GHz radio band where there is not nearly as much activity and less chance for interference. It’s also a bit pricey at $160 – I’ve seen WiFi cameras for less than $100 – but the added range may justify the cost for some users.